Published: 16:44, February 4, 2020 | Updated: 08:20, June 6, 2023
Sinn Fein moves into lead as Varadkar trails before election
By Bloomberg

Fine Gael leader, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald interact during the seven way RTE leaders debate at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) campus in Galway, Ireland on Jan 27, 2020. (NIALL CARSON / POOL / AFP)

DUBLIN - Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, moved into the lead ahead of the Feb 8 general election, a poll showed, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael pushed to third place.

Sinn Fein is part of a power-sharing govt in the British-run province, which it ultimately wants to reunite with the Irish Republic

The party scored 25%, the Irish Times said late Monday in Dublin, citing a poll of 1,200 voters taken between Jan 30 and Feb 1, up 4 points from a survey for the newspaper taken two weeks ago. Fianna Fail dropped 2 points to 23%, while Fine Gael dropped 3 points to 20%.

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Both Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pledge not to enter government with Sinn Fein, who aren’t running enough candidates to approach a majority in government. In an RTE radio interview, Varadkar warned of “massive” tax rises if Sinn Fein came to power, a charge rejected by the party.

Sinn Fein, whose members were banned from speaking on Irish media until the mid-1990s before the end of Northern Ireland’s three decades of conflict, is part of a power-sharing government in the British-run province, which it ultimately wants to reunite with the Irish Republic.

The party has said it will not go into coalition government without a commitment to immediately start planning for a referendum on the unification of Ireland, a vote it would push to be held within five years.

Varadkar has placed Brexit at the center of his bid for power, claiming his government is best placed to protect Ireland while the EU and UK negotiate a future trade agreement. Voters though appear more focused on domestic issues including a housing shortage and struggling health care system, a mood Sinn Fein appears to be capitalizing on.

Despite the poll, Sinn Fein are unlikely to emerge as the largest party as it is running only 42 candidates, which is around half the number of candidates being fielded by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Sinn Fein would need to get almost all 42 elected to the 160-seat chamber to give it a shot at emerging as the largest party.

Getting such a return would be difficult for any party, analysts say. Ireland’s proportional representation system also favors parties running more than one candidate in larger constituencies.

A senior member of the Sinn Fein front bench David Cullinane responded to the opinion poll on Twitter by criticizing journalists who questioned his party’s strategy.

“We are standing enough candidates to be serious contenders for Government. The demand for change is heart lifting.”

Some 41% of voters are satisfied with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, the poll showed, compared with 30% who are happy both with Varadkar and Fianna Fail’s Martin.

Martin remains the most likely candidate to be prime minister, according to bookies’ odds, as he’s best placed to form a coalition with smaller parties, the Labour Party and the Greens.

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The Greens scored 8% in the poll, with Labour at 4%. The margin of error in the poll is 2.8%, the Irish Times said.

Irish bonds were lower alongside their peers as the haven bid was unwound after Asian stocks advanced. Ireland’s 10-year bond yield was one basis point higher at -0.12% at 8:03 am in London.

With input from Reuters